Sippie Wallace recorded her first record in 1923. It was a blues classic with the songs “Shorty George” and “Up the Country Blues.” Fifty-seven years later I met Sippie in Detroit where she was still belting the blues in nightclubs on Saturday nights and then playing the organ and leading the choir on Sunday mornings. I spent some time with her in both the club and the church and then stopped by her home where she talked with me about her extaordinary career.
It was Sippie who first told me the only difference between the blues and gospel, the only difference between the music she sang on Saturday night and Sunday morning was the words. She said in the clubs she was singing “Baby” and in church she was singing “Jesus” She sang both for me for a series we were doing on American music for the Today show. This clip is another find from the Boyd closet of old tapes. Scott Goldstein was my producer at the time and we both were just looking for an exscuse to go meet some of the pioneers of the “roots” music we loved. The series also included stops in the “Windy City” for Chicago Blues and a stop in Louisiana for Cajun music. The series would become the inspiration for our regular weekly segment, “On the Record”.
Sippie was one of the big influences on singer Bonnie Raitt who would record one of Sippie’s songs, “Woman Be Wise,” and would also take Sippie on tour as an opening act. Two years after this story Sippie Wallace would be nominated for a Grammy and six years later she would suffer a stroke following a concert in Germany. Less than a month after the stroke, on her 88th birthday, she died in a Detroit hospital. Her contribution to the blues lives on in some of her most famous songs like, “Suitcase Blues”, “Woman Be Wise, “Up the Country Blues”, and “I’m A Mighty Tight Woman.”